Theatre and Lt Col Sivaram looking down from behind the mask, rubbing the stethoscope on his palm before connecting with the baby’s heartbeat. At 11:08 am that day, Baby Aqseer Sodhi put an end to months of preparation and anticipation. She and her mother had driven into the surgical block as one; early that morning and now they were trundling out in the ambulance as two separate, tightly wrapped and slightly somnambulistic bundles.
Aqseer did not know it then but she had a Karmic connection with Srinagar. Her father had flown several sorties over the saffron sprinkled valley. That floral elf land had also seen some pounding from her parents, astride the black Yezdi ”ABU”, roaring all over Sonmarg and Awantipore in cold hard rain. And now, as she entered the cosy Bukhari room, her tiny hands undulating gracefully in the biting air, there was the grandfather gleefully handing out sweets, her grandmother frozen on an unusual chatter channel and the brand new father hopping from one foot to the other, barely able to contain his concern.
Of course, it was not until several years later that Aqseer would hear of how her Dad had railed, bussed, flown, jeeped and walked to be in Srinagar when needed.
Aqseer’s first Indian Airlines flight was at the ripe age of 22 days. More or less, she has been aloft since.
I do not know of any other baby who had as large a stock of hair tacks as Aqseer and only five strands to show them off on. From the easy cocoon of her grandparental home, it was a dive headlong into the breathless life of an Air Force squadron, bent upon living it up. There was nary a murmur from this minnow though; she soaked in the squadron revelries from her horizontal vantage point on a makeshift davenport, ears plugged with cotton, a good knight mat in lazy vapour some way off. Little wonder, come to think of it, that Aqseer’s constant and unchanging lullaby remained Rod Stewart’s,”Some guys have all the luck”. For months together, while her father flew out his night syllabus overhead, this mother daughter pair would dance their forty winks in, Rod Stewart for urging.
Aqseer hated coming home from the dance and music affairs. She would catch her nap on the short way back from the Mess and erupt into a furious bellow just as the bike made to turn into the driveway. There would be a prompt and hurried roaring off by a startled father, mother making a grab for the protesting bundle.
Aqseer liked her chicken on stick and had the loveliest baby profile ever. When her sister was getting ready for her arrival on the world’s stage, Aqseer would want to share everything with her from the outside. Any object with the tag baby would set her off, “Johnson baby soap baby ko lagao...”
Oh yes, Aqseer has come a long way since her favourite book, “Kaju and the Shoe”. Despite having endured the ordeal of being the first born, with parents who read too much Benjamin Spock, Aqseer has evolved into this beautiful young lady living her life in a challenging, competitive and chaotic world full of other young people like her, trying to carve their places in the sun.
Her parents watch her evolution from a distance, with a pride mixed with concern. Astride her red Pulsar, in black jacket and aviators, Aqseer is on her way.
Everything of significance owned by Aqseer has received a christening. There is Mango, Tangerine, Juno and more. A feminist at heart and by the power of pen, she loves Delhi, friends, a well cooked plate of mutton and curd with some whey please!
Today when she drives off in her Yellow Zen while in Delhi, sporting her black and white trademark gear, laptop over the shoulder and snack basket in hand, on way to intern with one truly remarkable Supreme Court Lawyer, very much the litigator in making, her mother sees instead the excited, tripping, scurrying toddler in her candy striped pyjamas.
That gal in the chrome wheels, hurtling down myriad flyovers, head nodding in sync with the little white daisy on the dashboard is Aqseer.